Before he was Miami’s coach, Larry Scott was Sebring football’s meticulous housekeeper and turf manager. He signed onto a college program built on fantasy above framework. He spent evenings coaching high school football after days as a state child abuse investigator.
“The core of my experience right now in football and any program is where it all starts -- love of the game,” Scott said. “You got to love what you’re doing.”
As Miami’s coach, Scott does, which made the 38-year-old former tight ends coach the best possible interim hire for a reeling program and dejected team.
The Hurricanes were coming off their worst loss in school history, an embarrassing 58-0 home defeat, when Al Golden was fired Oct. 25. Fans, alumni and former players memorialized the day of Golden’s ouster, but the Miami locker room ached.
Days later, beloved team mom Dana Smith, mother of cornerback Artie Burns, died of a heart attack. She was 44.
Scott didn’t ask his team to internalize the emotion or compartmentalize the pain. He embraced the human element, he said. Miami won that week on a final, eight-lateral play, and Scott started his career 2-0 with a win the following week, too.
“Let’s put it in the open and understand this is life and this is what happens in life. There is adversity and there are curveballs,” Scott said. “It’s about your response. Let’s not [avoid] talking about it like it didn’t occur, but let’s respond like champions.
“We got to realize we play a game that involves human emotion, very true emotions and it’s not spoken of because it’s not seen in the light of being a game. It’s a game but there’s so many life lessons that can be taught and learned.”
Scott talks about the game reverently. Not about wins or losses but about how it can shape lives. No better example is his own, as he went from a child who wouldn’t see beyond his small, central Florida town’s borders to a college graduate and coach at one of the sport’s tradition-rich programs.
He thanks his high school coach at Sebring, Gary Rapp, for acting as the father figure Scott did not have. Scott was best friend’s with Rapp’s son, and when Rapp became Sebring’s coach, he kept a young Scott around the program.
Before games, it was Scott who carefully hung jerseys in the lockers as pristine as possible. After games, it was Scott who would wash grass stains and fold clothes. He ordered busses and traced the white lines on the field.
“I loved it. I’m always about the details, so I wanted that line across the 50 to be the straightest line and I’d be upset if I stood up at the last bleacher and if the line wasn’t straight,” Scott said. “I was really upset. I strived every week to make sure that was straight and perfect.”
Those years were how Scott developed a deep love of football. Upon graduation, he was presented with an opportunity to continue playing at South Florida, more than a decade before the Bulls would reach to No. 2 in the country (with Scott as an assistant coach). South Florida was a start-up program when Scott arrived in 1996, still a year from competing as a I-AA program.
South Florida didn’t have a football complex then. It had trailers. Earlier this season, Adidas created a customized cleat for Miami to be worn only one time. As a member of the Bulls, Scott had a single pair of cleats.
It all prepared Scott for the interim job, though. With a 4-3 Miami team that was in danger of fraying, Scott was able to recall and fall back on his introduction to the game and how that South Florida team bonded and formed a singular focus as it embarked on a laborious task.
“It gave me appreciation for the game and the people that were involved with it. People build programs, not bricks or mortar,” Scott said.
Scott almost certainly won’t build the Miami program in the long term. A search committee has been hired and the Hurricanes are looking at outside candidates.
But at the end of the season, Scott will be thanked for guiding the Hurricanes to bowl eligibility and, more importantly, through one of the tougher times the program has endured recently.
“The impression and inspiration you want to leave on young people ... is always been my core belief,” he said. “And it’s never been about anything other than that.”